The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary

The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary

The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary

The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary

Excerpt

A professor teaching a course in the interpretation of poetry had adopted an anthology without footnotes, and assigned Hardy's "The Phantom Horsewoman." Then he studied the poem himself by examining the point of view, the diction, the expected ironies, the rhythms, the figures of speech, and the supposed symbolism, but the "ghost-girl rider" baffled him. "What does she symbolize?" he asked me. "Death, riding the pale horse of Revelation? Is she luring the man into the sea?" He thought of every possibility except a fact he did not know because he was unfamiliar with Hardy's life-story. I told him that the ghost is Hardy's memory in 1913 of Emma Gifford as she was when he had courted her in Cornwall in 1870. With this fact he was able to march to his classroom beaming.

I. A. Richards, to discover whether students can judge poetry without some hint, at least, of facts the poet had in mind, conducted an experiment among his undergraduates reading English for an Honors Degree at Cambridge University. He distributed on printed sheets poems without title, author's name, or other facts external to the poem itself. One of the poems was Hardy's "George Meredith." Richards asked the students to write critical evaluations. The responses exhibited complete confusion about what the poem said, and the evaluations ranged from condemnation of the poem as worthless to extravagant praise. Students said: "It arouses no emotions in me. I understand what it says, but feel no interest in it." "I feel there is something wrong with this poem. Perhaps it is that the poet plunges too quickly into his subject; he does not pause to create an atmosphere." "The second verse is nonsense. The second line of verse four is particularly poor, only excelled perhaps by the second line of the last verse. Who ever heard of anything so strained, so artificial as 'The world's vaporous vitiate air'? The effort was not worth the ink . . .

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